Ending a private firm’s £54million-a-year health services contract for ideological reasons is not in residents’ best interests during a global pandemic.
That was the view of Bath and North East Somerset Council chiefs as they voted to keep Virgin Care on for another three years and avoid a bill of nearly £1million to seek a replacement that would be hard to find.
Partners at the BANES, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group also agreed to extend the contract until 2027.
Councillor Alison Born told her cabinet colleagues on 10th November: “Virgin Care has generally provided good services, more recently in very challenging circumstances and has worked constructively with partners across health and social care.
“This is a particularly challenging time for health and social care and services must focus on reform and recovery from the pandemic.”
Virgin Care became the first private company to take over adult social care services when it signed the deal in 2016. There are currently few providers with the necessary experience that could replace it.
Councillor Rob Appleyard told a scrutiny panel meeting that awarding the contract was “not universally accepted” and there was “continual distrust” but “Covid was the making of the relationship with Virgin Care”.
The company is said to be keen to secure the extension – which would see it secure £558m from the public purse over the full 10 years – and it could challenge the decision if the council and CCG refused, a report to cabinet said.
Scrutiny panel chairperson Vic Pritchard said: “It would be irresponsible for us to not extend this contract this time because the amount of bureaucracy to engage another partner would be tremendous. It would be an unnecessary cost.”
Going out to tender would cost some £965,000.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, councillor Dine Romero said: “You might have an ideological aversion to a private business being part of health and care provision but locally I would like to stress how Virgin Care have really stepped up to the plate during the pandemic.
“Now is not the time to make any extreme changes merely on a point of principle. Now is the moment to focus on supporting our communities and those who work in those communities to deliver the best at this very challenging time for our residents.”
BSW CCG held an extraordinary governing body meeting to consider the extension.
Chief operating officer Corinne Edwards told her colleagues Virgin Care had supported patients through the pandemic and was owed gratitude and stability.
She said the firm recognised that improvements were needed and was committed to delivering on those expectations.
Chief executive Tracey Cox said the threat of potentially losing a contract is an incentive to all providers to do a good job.
The CCG and cabinet both agreed to extend the Virgin Care contract until 2027.
The option to lengthen the contract can only be taken once.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter